The dining room was comfortably sized. There was enough room for the table, which seated twenty, as well as a comfortable amount of room around it for servants to bring out the food without disturbing the guests. The table seated nine on each side with one at the foot and one at the head. Since there were only nineteen guests, no one sat at the foot of the table. Dr. Pickering was seated at the head, with his wife to his left and his most honored guest, Lord Dubshire, on his right.
A large window dominated the wall overlooking the street. The curtains were shut, hiding the perpetual and pervasive fog from the diners. Two obsidian obelisks stood at attention on either side of the window. With Adeline’s limited knowledge of the Egyptian pictographs, she couldn’t be certain, but it didn’t seem like the same language was represented on them as she had seen on the artifacts from the other room. Of course, that didn’t make them authentic, but either way, forgery or genuine, they made a very impressive pair.
Lady Scarlet Longfellow escorted Adeline to the table. Lord Longfellow chatted with Adeline, from his position on the other arm of his wife, about what her current project was and if he could assist with any financial obligations. Lord Jonathan Longfellow had never seemed like the type of man willing to get his elegant hands dirty with the poor. However, if he had never been to the impoverished areas of town, he could never have met Scarlet. This, was a bit of a quandary for Adeline. In spite of this, he was always interested in donating to whatever cause Adeline deemed worthy, from the British Museum to the orphanages.
Their jovial smiles dried up when they saw the place cards. Lord and Lady Longfellow gave her compassionate looks before leaving Adeline to the conversational desert of her unfortunate dinner companions. Adeline forced a pleasant smile before taking her seat.
To Adeline’s great dismay, she was seated between Mister George Bernerdson, well know as a philosophunculist, and Miss Margaret Longbottom who, it seemed, her sole claim to fame being her father’s fortune with which she procured copious amounts of cosmetics. Miss Margaret’s maid had applied her foundation as if attempting to shore up faulty construction with excessive plaster, but merely managed to accentuate the cracks of age. Were her father a little less wealthy, Adeline expected Miss Longbottom would not have received an invitation.
Then again, Adeline mused, she may have been invited as I was… That would certainly be an interesting turn of events.
Immediately following Mister Bernerdson’s inelegant descent to his seat, he began the arduous and unsolicited process of edifying Adeline to the most cutting edge styles of philosophy he was aware of. Unfortunately, he seemed to be both several decades behind the times and to be confusing his theories.
His mustache drooped dangerously and seemed to become entangled in his lips while he spoke. Spittle clung to the hairs, making it appear to be a great slobbery mop on top of his upper lip. It was distressing to see and almost put her off her soup until she began to think of him as a slobbery, barking dog. Yes, he reminds me of one of those St. Bernard dogs from the Swiss Alps. A smile tickled the edges of her mouth, but given the serious nature of the conversation, she couldn’t allow herself to give in.
The more she thought of him as the great dog, the more she saw it. His jowls dragged his features down and his bushy eyebrows crept across his face, obscuring his dull eyes. His whole countenance was saggy.
Mr. Bernerdson’s words had been peripatetic for some time before he finally concluded, “And that is why women cannot be allowed to teach our sons and daughters. As Plato himself said, ‘women will avoid the wicked not because it is unright, but because it is ugly.’ since they lack true moral understanding we can hardly expect them to raise children with any moral insight.” His voice was like a thousand rats being stepped on.
It was hard for Adeline to stay diplomatic while Mr. Bernerdson butchered her favorite philosopher and hero of her childhood. I don’t believe he is very familiar with Plato, he certainly has never read the Symposium in English, let alone in Greek. She attempted to find something agreeable about him. Though he seems to have read Kant’s ‘Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime’. A thought bubbled up while he nattered on, For a man certain that women lack any worth, he seems very bent on speaking to women… “Well, as pejorative as your words are, that sounds very like a very jejune way for women to live.”
“Brilliant! I know!” he replied having never bothered to hear her response.
Miss Longbottom smiled halfheartedly at Adeline before setting herself intently on her meal. When asked a question, her response was to have too much food in her mouth to answer in a timely manner and when an answer finally came, it was so brief as to be almost rude.
Scarlet and Jonathan had been seated at the far end by Anya and Lord Farcical. They seemed to be in an animated discussion that intrigued Adeline and made her envious. Anya seemed to be the odd one out. It looked like Scarlet was trying to include her, but it was obvious to any observer Anya was stilted in the way she hunched over her plate, disturbing the line of sight and thus the dialogue. She also never set her silverware down and seemed to simply place one bit of food in her mouth right after the other.
Anya’s actions distressed Adeline. She knows how to behave in polite company. She specifically asked me to give her lessons so that she could join me at parties like this. She has even gone to parties and done quiet well mixing with society. So, why is she looking so insecure and acting so shockingly rude?
The polar bear-man, Dr. Alexi Tolstoy, was seated directly opposite Adeline. He was being ignored by his dinner companions, Mr. Algernon Woodhead and Mr. Gerald Tweddle. Since Adeline was familiar with Mr. Tweddle, she knew that he was simply painfully shy. Had Dr. Tolstoy tried to engage him, he would have responded with politeness and possibly vigor. Unfortunately, because of her late husband’s work, she had also been able to make the acquaintance of Mr. Woodhead and knew that he was a racist, nugatory, picayune fool. It was most certainly to Dr. Tolstoy’s benefit that he did not attempt to engage Mr. Woodhead.
Why would Mrs. Pickering place them next to one another? Is she looking to start an incident? Adeline mused. If I was able to infiltrate Cat into this dinner, then whoever is plotting this theft was most likely also able to infiltrate someone. Which means that those two were probably placed next to one another specifically to cause an incident. Adeline glanced over to Mrs. Pickering.
Mrs. Pickering was glancing over at Dr. Tolstoy and Mr. Woodhead, dismay evident on her face. When Lord Dubshire addressed her, the dismay disappeared from her face and a jovial smile released itself. The lady was quiet animated in her discussion, but continued to steal glances around the room.
That paints a very interesting picture of what is going on. Someone definitely moved the place cards and whatever is about to happen, the Pickerings are not behind it. Perhaps a jilted wife would vindictively try to destroy her husband, but no hostess would fret over badly placed cards that she had placed herself. Adeline glanced at the two awkward diners next to her. I can only hope Mrs. Pickering did not intend to place me next to these two.
With this is mind and having found neither of her dinner compatriots to be adequate conversationalists, she turned her attention to the doctor. “My uncle Dravan informed me you would be doing some guest lectures at the university during your stay.”
Alexi looked up from the fish course he had been intent on. “Dravan? A gnomish fellow?”
Adeline nodded, swallowing her own delicate bit of fish.
Alexi blinked slowly, “Yes.” his voice finally began to rumble forth, “I will be doing a few surgeries demonstrating some new tools.” He blinked again, “I believe I met your uncle this evening.” A bit of an edge joined his voice, “He is no doctor, he is an Aeaeist.”
His words and his vehemence concerned her. What was Dravan doing with him? Dravan never leaves his boat. She mused, I wonder what is going on in Russia that he hates Aeaeists. “That is correct. He is pursuing another doctorate.”
Mrs. Eleanor Robert, a dwarf wearing an emerald green dress and an expensive pearl necklace, who was sitting next to Mr. Tweddle joined into the conversation, “How are you enjoying your stay in London? It must be ever so much more interesting than Moscow.”
Alexi smiled, revealing his full maw of teeth. “It is certainly less dangerous here and the city is much warmer.”
“Warmer!” Dr. Pickering, who was some distance away at the head of the table, exclaimed, “You should join me in Egypt on my next dig. I assure you, you have not begun to feel heat until you reach Egypt!”
Alexi smiled gently this time, “I’m afraid I must decline. I am not suited for such an adventure.”
Dr. Pickering seemed to have not heard Dr. Tolstoy’s remark. “There are many wondrous things to learn in Egypt.” He gestured to Mr. Bryne who, with another servant began setting up oversized cards with diagrams of unwrapped mummies.
Adeline set her fork down for the final time. She didn’t find discussing corpses over dinner agreeable for her digestion. However, the information was certainly interesting.
A gesture from Lord Farcical caught her eye. He nodded slightly toward the widow, Lady Dubshire, and her son Lord Dubshire. Lady Dubshire had gone to boarding school with Adeline. At that time, she had been as beautiful and vain as she was loathsome. The years, however, had not been kind to Lady Elizabeth Dubshire. While creamy white skin was something every Englishwoman stroved for, Lady Dubshire’s skin appeared ghastly. Her flesh was sunken so much that her face appeared to be a skull resting upon her spine rather than a living visage. Lady Dubshire’s agedness wasn’t what caught Lord Farcical’s eye. Rather, it was the terrible smirk creeping across her son’s countenance.
Lord Dubshire was dressed smartly, befitting his station. But as Adeline looked closely, she saw three red drops on the cuff of his sleeve as he brushed some hair away from his face.
Dr. Pickering stood up from his chair, “Now, ladies and gentlemen, please follow me into the study.”
He gestured to Mr. Bryne again who moved toward the door. Just before the butler touched handle, a loud crash shattered the calm from the other room. Mr. Bryne frantically began to try the door, however it did little more than shake.
“What is the meaning of this?” Dr. Pickering demanded, his face turning purple from embarrassment and fury.
“I… I don’t know. It seems to be blocked from the other side.”
The large window that dominated the front of the room was shattered by a brass ball. Three more balls followed. Upon hitting the floor, the balls began hissing smoke. A glowing red bar that hissed smoke and fire followed, setting the curtains and everything it touched ablaze.
Disorganized panic spread across the room. As Adeline attempted to stand, her chair and footing were knocked out from under her by the previously boring philosopher. His high pitched shrieks pierced her ears and only added to the confusion. She tried to gather her feet underneath her, but her skirts; necessitated through social course, tangled her legs and from the tugs she was giving, seemed to be caught. The smoke from the grenades filled the air with a choking gas and the flames threw off their own thick, black smoke.
One moment, she was looking at the hopeless confusion of chairs and petticoats and the next the huge dining room table was heaved over her head and out the window, sucking much of the initial fumes out with it. With the barrier to the outside broken, the London smog began to creep toward the house, but was beaten off by the flames that crept higher on the curtains and sought to find a way into the second floor.
Lord Farcical grabbed her elbow and assisted her to her feet. He shouted, “The way to the kitchen is blocked!”
The growling voice of Dr. Tolstoy came from above Adeline’s head answering him, “Then we must unblock a door!” The beastman strode to the door to the library and punched through it. Then, with his paw firmly gripped on the door, he ripped it inward. One of the lovingly prepared cases lay ruined before the door, blocking the way. The great urn it had housed was cracked, a large shard broken off and resting some distance away. Mosaic lay shattered on the floor.
A snakeman, with the aid of a boarman and three humans were attempting to manhandle the sarcophagus out of the library and toward the front door. There were few defining factors on the intruders. They wore nondescript clothing and had no defining features. The snakeman was an anomaly among the group, since his race marked him as clearly foreign.
A crowbar clutched in the hand of the serpentman made it obvious how they had broken it free from the steel stand that had gripped it. The snakeman looked back at them and hissed. His eyes narrowed, he pointed at two of the humans, “You two! Get them!”
Lord Farcical stepped over the shattered remains of Dr. Pickering’s hopes to be an archeologist, “I’ll hold them off! You get the ladies out of there!”
Dr. Tolstoy lifted Adeline out before turning back into the flaming room to help the others escape. Adeline turned to assist the Russian, but there was no room in the choked doorway to do anything but get in the way. She could only pray that Dr. Tolstoy was able to get everyone out before the fire caught them.
The two thugs charged Lord Farcical in a pincer movement, he dodged back and forth engaging them as a boxer. He was doing an admirable job, but they seemed set on getting around him and stopping the guests escape.
Adeline grabbed a large piece of mosaic that had fallen to the floor. It was heavy in her hand. When one of them circled around behind Lord Farcical again, she struck him in the head with the piece, crumpling him. With that threat dealt with, Lord Farcical was free to finish off the other thug. Which he did with a well placed blow on the jaw.
Those dealt with, they looked up to see the sarcophagus was gone. Adeline ran for the front door, but couldn’t see anyone outside. In fact, were it not for the flames belching from the dinning room window, the night was picturesque in its serenity. Even Mr. Taurus in his carriage were nowhere to be seen.
 a petty or insignificant philosopher
 Dull or lackluster
 Worthless or vain. In this instance, worthless